LeBron James

LeBron returns to Cleveland a more efficient, mature player that can take team further

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When he left, the Cavaliers were “LeBron and the LeBronettes” — it looked like a one man show. LeBron James was the best player in the game but he seemed to have plateaued, and the team around him was degenerating.

The LeBron James that returns to Cleveland is fully realized — the physical gifts were always there but his game is more efficient and mature. LeBron can beat you just about any way he chooses but now is smart enough to recognize the best way to do it.

It’s a LeBron who is personally more mature — you could see it in how he handled the announcement compared to four years ago.

It’s a LeBron who understands what it takes to climb to the mountaintop and can lead by example in a way he could not before — and in the interim the Cavaliers put together a talented and moldable roster that he can lead.

One can see the challenge but one can also see the fit.

Offensively, LeBron has always had a versatile game — he can play any position 1-4, he can post his defender up or take him out to the three point line and knock down shots over him, not to mention put the ball on the floor and blow by him. He’s a lightning quick point guard in a Karl Malone body. The tools have always been impressive. What is more impressive is how he has learned to use them.

LeBron has chosen efficiency. His final season in Cleveland LeBron took 32.2 percent of his shots from the long-midrange (10 feet out to the three point line) — the least efficient shot on the court. Last season in Miami that was down to 25.2 percent of his shots. In their place he got to the rim more often (39.9 percent of his shots last season were inside three feet) and he’s taking (and hitting) more threes.

That’s part of the reason he had a career best true shooting percentage of .649 last season, up from a still very good .604 his final season in Cleveland.

But the numbers only tell part of the story.

What has really changed is the mindset and maturity of LeBron’s game — he understands how to win now. He has Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and Eric Spoelstra to thank for some of that, but he also has the Dallas Mavericks as well. Despite the myths his critics like to tell themselves, winning didn’t come easy to the Heat. After losing in the 2011 Finals they had to have an honest discussion of who they were as a team and what sacrifices as players they were willing to make.

LeBron did his soul searching. He called guys who understood losing on the big stage and how to learn from it, including the legendary Jerry West. He absorbed.

Dwyane Wade told LeBron to take over, make it his team, it was time. LeBron did and the Heat won back-to-back tittles.

Things changed a little this season in Miami as the team aged and the burden of carrying them fell heavily on LeBron. He struggled with consistency of effort, particularly on the defensive end last season. Mind you when he is focused he is as good a defender as there is in the league, but under all the weight he carried for the team last year that effort wasn’t there. He settled for more jumpers (especially against the tight rotations of the Spurs in the Finals). Miami fell short.

LeBron did some soul searching again and came to the conclusion he wanted to go home to Northeast Ohio.

This LeBron can carry a team further than the one that left, and at moments he will have to do that with a young squad that doesn’t know winning, let alone winning a title.

But this LeBron knows how to lift a team up with him, how to lead and teach, how to help others grow. That is what he brings back from Miami that he left without. He brings back a fully realized, mature game because he is a more mature person that needed to go away to learn those lessons.

Cleveland is about to benefit from all of it.

Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy “encouraged” by players speaking out, protesting social issues

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 17: Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons yells to his players during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption ***Stan Van Gundy
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Athletes are injecting themselves into the needed national conversation about race, violence, and policing in this nation. That has taken some very public forms, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony speaking at the ESPYs, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and leading others to do so. Some NBA players likely will follow Kaepernick’s lead.

Pistons coach/GM Stan Van Gundy likes seeing players speak out.

A couple of his Detroit players — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — said they backed the 49ers quarterback. Here is what the never shy Van Gundy said about all of it, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

“I’m encouraged by the fact of what some of those guys stood up and did at the ESPYs and had a conversation,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have guys that not only see the problem, but want to try to do something about it…

“To me, in some ways, (police brutality is) just the most visible to focus on and it goes to deeper inequities in our criminal justice system, our education system so there’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”

Van Gundy has been telling his players part of that solution is to vote.

The players union and NBA sent out a release saying they wanted to work together to create positive change, but details are still vague on what that might be. The only thing we know for sure as we head into the NBA season — with as divided a nation and election as anyone can remember as a backdrop — is that some NBA players are going to try and keep the conversation going.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

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It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.